Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"J" Is For Junk

Writers produce junk.  Lots and lots and lots of junk.  It's part of the creative process.  When plugging through early drafts, it's impossible to know everything we want in our final product.  So, sometimes, we experiment.  We create unnecessary characters.  We send folks places they never needed to go.  We give our protagonist an extra sibling, friend, or significant other, who has no relevance to the story we are trying to tell.  Every writer does this; in order to learn what works, we often need to test out what doesn't work first.

Our vision evolves as we navigate through a project.  We begin with one idea, only to learn it has taken a life of its own.  Our characters become the boss; they tell us how the plot unfolds.  Sometimes, it's as though we're simply along for the ride.

In my current W.I.P., I have written close to 40,000 words that have already been cut - and I'm still in my first draft.  When I started my novel, I had a concept and vague sense of the main character - nothing more.  After months of pre-writing, brainstorming, and researching, the story revealed itself, as did the protagonist.  He told me how the story went, leaving me with an awful lot of junk needing to be scrapped.

At first, I placed everything I removed in a separate document.  I was convinced I could use it elsewhere.  Never delete anything, I told myself.  The minute you do, you'll want it.

On occasion, I attempted to pull material from my junk pile and insert it into my manuscript.  You know what?  It didn't work!  The voice was different.  The ideas didn't fit.  The flow was choppy.  The poorest reader could tell the words were forced inside like a puzzle piece that didn't quite fit.  And so, after evaluating the current state of my project, I decided to delete it once and for all.  It was a good feeling.

Junk clutters my head the same way it clutters my house.  Just as I tell myself I'll wear those sneakers I haven't fit into for five years - or I'll use that extra piece of furniture in my next place - I tell myself I'll use the words I've scrapped as well.  Unfortunately, if I do that, my writing will read like the same way a room looks when put together with random odds and ends.  No theme; no coordination.  That isn't what I'm aiming for.

As writers, we have to trust our own judgment, especially in the earlier stages of the process.  It's hard; we are getting rid of our own words - thoughts that came from inside our own head.  It makes spotting the clutter a bit harder.

How do you identify the 'junk' in your manuscript?  What do you do with it afterwards?


  1. I hang onto stuff I cut out, not to reuse it, but because there are sometimes lines or phrases I want to reuse, may be in a different story and not being able to rememebr it is infuriating (even if when I do find it I discover it isn't right after all).

  2. I wish I had more junk! Okay, maybe not. But I write such bare bones, it's always a challenge to go back and fill it out more.

  3. I let it accumulate until my desktop can't handle any more and crashes as a result. :-D Great post!

  4. I'm starting my first rewrite and boy do I have junk! I'm plan on keeping it all though. Not because I'll insert it back, but I want to remember where I started so I can follow the idea threads through - in case i need to backtrack a little.

    Stopping by from the A-Z Challenge

  5. Reading out loud tends to alert me to what shouldn't be there.

    But we need to often write 10 pages of junk to reach the one golden paragraph :)

    Duncan In Kuantan

  6. Junk is anything that's not relevant -- anythign that doesn't move the story forward in some way. I have difficulty deleting it too and often save it in a separate file before I delete...just in case.

  7. I tend to do a find on several words that haunt my WIP. I usually spend more time reworking prose.
    I'm following you from the A-Z challenge. :)

  8. Wow, I have a LOT of junk. Maybe I could be a writer. (not likely)...I am appreciating your insights into the workings of a writer.

  9. Haha, had to laugh, cuz I do the same thing. I can't bear to cut something, so I stick it in a Deleted Stuff folder. Then I look at it later and think eh? I'd never use that. But I still feel better for having saved it; it helps me delete. :)


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